Located in the darling Dundee neighborhood, the dining room at J. Coco is flanked by cozy booths and a gorgeous bar, drawing diners in with warm wood tones and fixtures. Large picture windows afford sparkling street views, and in warmer months, a patio beckons with aromas of fresh vegetables and herbs. The engaging space, serving as a grocery in a past life, is a virtual extension of Executive Chef and owner Jennifer Coco’s personal dining room.
Large murals that depict vintage scenes of Omaha grocers also serve as acoustic panels, facilitating a quiet, elegant atmosphere. The historical scenes are complemented by unique and colorful modern art created by Michael Rhoades, another accomplished Omaha chef. Led by general manager Scott Thornton, service at the establishment is sincere, attentive, and unfussy. A private party room features an interesting Rhoades sculpture along one wall and a view into the bustling kitchen on the other.
A James Beard award semi-finalist, Coco is humble and kind, setting the tone for the jovial, pleasant, and relaxed atmosphere that reigns in both the dining room and kitchen. She boasts no formal training, starting at The Omaha Baking Company and working her way through college in various eateries.
Learning from local chefs, reading books, and good old-fashioned trial and error, Coco remembers a healthy dose of “practicing and failing” in her early years in the industry. Stints at Omaha’s Spanna, V. Mertz, and the Flatiron Café further honed her skills and focused her flavors, earning her the James Beard nod and giving her the confidence to branch out and open her own spot.
According to Coco, the best thing about her job is the connections with others, forged in and out of the kitchen. “Every day is a different day,” she shared. “We ask ourselves daily how we can make the dining experience better.” J. Coco’s staff is grateful for regular patrons and thrilled when new diners discover the intimate eatery for the first time.
Executive Chef Pedro Garcia and Coco have known each other for more than 20 years, sharing experiences and flavors with warmth and love. Hailing from Oaxaca, Mexico, Garcia is a master saucier, able to seamlessly meld flavors from his childhood with the elevated dishes served at J. Coco.
Garcia’s eyes light up when sharing his thoughts on food, tradition, and history, while Coco sits back and listens with a smile. He cooks like his mother and loves to try new things. In Oaxaca, celebrations call for special dishes, and Garcia relishes the exploration of these flavors.
Purveyors such as Plum Creek Farms, In Season, Rosebud, and Omaha Steaks provide the beautiful raw materials needed to craft the flavorful, creative gustatory experiences regular diners know and love. The food resonates on many levels, evoking nostalgia while pleasing sophisticated palates. “Food has the ability to passionately connect people to memories,” remarked Coco. “We invite diners to celebrate not just special occasions, but every day.”
A wide variety of starter and salad options provide something for everyone. The Crab Rangoon Flatbread is bright and rich, while the Toasted Quinoa Salad is a beautiful, colorful creation, often featuring seasonal vegetables and fruits. Dressed with a light champagne and mustard vinaigrette, the dish is perfect for sharing.
Mains include the Herbed Salmon Roulade with forbidden rice, a dish so popular they recently brought it back to the menu. The entrée includes well-seasoned and prepared salmon perched atop gorgeous black rice, a sweet carrot ginger beurre fondue, and crisp salad of tender greens.
Another offering, the Seabass, presents an Asian flavor profile that features sake-marinated seabass served with crisp-tender marinated vegetables mingling with crispy vegetable pot stickers, drizzled with a tangy ginger vinaigrette, and dotted with a rich soy glaze.
Garcia said the Roasted Pork Shank reminds him of Oaxacan tamales—tender roasted meat falling off the bone, served with jalapeño grits reminiscent of masa, guajillo broth, finishing with the piquant bite of pickled red onion. Luscious desserts by local baker Tierney Neneman round out the meal, including the delicate pistachio cake with cream cheese buttercream.
Omaha offers a variety of dining options, and the advent of food trucks and popups have allowed greater accessibility for cooks to share their unique flavors and creations. Coco is grateful to be a part of such a dynamic, thriving community, whether through her namesake restaurant, mentoring up-and-coming chefs, or donating her time and talents to various charitable organizations.
Stop in for a delectable meal at J. Coco—reservations are recommended, but small parties are happily seated at the bar. A prix fixe dinner is available on Valentine’s Day, and patio time will be upon us soon. No matter the time of year, you are always welcome.